by Lauren Brousell

Mobile app helps American Cancer Society gather donor data

News Analysis
Aug 31, 2015
AnalyticsData MiningE-commerce Software

The nonprofit uses a homegrown mobile fundraising app to take credit card donations at events and develop ongoing relationships with supporters

Charities depend on forming relationships with people who will volunteer their time and donate money again and again. But officials at the American Cancer Society (ACS) felt that slow processes and a lack of data about donors were resulting in missed opportunities.

In an effort to learn more about donors and make it easier for them to pay by credit card instead of cash or checks, the ACS rolled out an iOS mobile app for fundraising. (An Android version is in the works.) “The ultimate strategy here is to meet people where they want to give. We never want to leave a door closed,” says CIO Jay Ferro.

Using the app, employees and volunteers can accept donations before and during ACS events by taking a photo to securely capture a credit card or check. The expedited payment system allows the ACS to update an event’s fundraising data in real time, so employees don’t have to wait until checks are processed and data is entered into the system. “The [app’s] back-end reconciliation is really not an issue,” says Ferro. “It flows through the transaction system almost seamlessly.”

The ACS IT department partnered with the charity’s marketing, finance and innovation teams to develop a prototype of the app using the agile software-development methodology.

For the payment capabilities, the ACS used PayPal’s credit-card scanning technology. Using the scanning capability of a smartphone camera, the user takes a photo of the front of a card or check, validating the number without storing it locally. The technology doesn’t require add-ons like card swipers or dongles.

The app is also helping the ACS learn more about its donors and volunteers by collecting data such as names, email addresses, social media accounts and events attended.

“The more you know about [donors], the more you can tailor your pitch to those individual people,” says Alden Briscoe, executive vice president of Brakeley Briscoe, a management and fundraising consultancy for nonprofits. “The real goal is to turn one-time donors or initial donors into consistent donors.”

The ACS says its fundraising app is the first of its kind in the nonprofit sector. Based on early results, the organization expects the app to reduce the cost and time for processing check donations, increase event revenue and reduce fundraising costs.